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Comparing Climate Records from Multiple Locations

This activity is part of the community collection of teaching materials on climate and energy topics.

These materials were submitted by faculty as part of the CLEAN Climate Workshop, held in May, 2012 and are not yet part of the CLEAN collection of reviewed resources.
Contributed by: Beth Christensen, Adelphi University
Melissa Godek, SUNY Oneonta
Pamela Gore, Georgia Perimeter College,
Benjamin Laabs, SUNY Geneseo

Topic: climate records, climate variability and controls, global climates
Course Type: Introductory-Level College Course


This activity applies to Teaching Principle 2: Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth System. It specifically addresses Concept 2A: Earth's climate is influenced by interactions involving the sun, ocean, atmosphere, clouds, ice, land, and life. Climate varies by region as a result of local differences in these interactions. It is anticipated that the activity will take two 50 - 75 minute class periods with additional time for follow-up assessment.

Students use web resources to

  1. identify climate patterns and distributions and
  2. synthesize the information to develop an understanding of the global variation.

Students develop tables of temperature and precipitation averages and also identify and describe an extreme weather event. This exercise is an inquiry-style lesson and can easily be adapted for use in or out of the classroom.

Annual Temperature Anomalies for Year 2011
Map of Annual Temperature Anomalies for Year 2011. Numbers are surface air temperature anomalies in oC, relative to the 1951-1980 base period. Image credit: NASA. Details

Note: Prior to this assignment, students should receive some information on how to sample climate data from the GLOBE or NASA sets, or how to find quality online resources about climate and climate variability. This could be done as a walk-through, in-class tutorial of government/ university research centers and SERC sites, comparing the information in each to less reliable sources such as Wikipedia.


After completing the activities below, students should be able to do the following:


Prior to Activity: Assessment can be performed in the form of a series of clicker questions so that students understand the fundamental differences between weather and climate. In addition, this assessment can include information on satellites and how satellite data is acquired.

During & After the Activity:
1)Formative Assessment Approach: 2-step process:

2) Summative Assessment Approach: 3-step process:


Building Blocks:

1) Students will refer to the GLOBE Compilation or NASA Earth Observatory satellite data 2005-2012 to view the climate data available for their area of interest.

2) Then, students will follow the instructions of the "Climate Around the World" exercise (modified from this CLEAN resource by C. Shellito; see below) to assemble a set of climate data for their area. Data can be entered into a MS Excel spreadsheet Climate Records MS Excel spreadsheet (Excel 33kB May14 12) or Climate data table (Excel 31kB May15 12), which will aid in computing annual averages and can be expanded to include multiple locations of interest.

Assemble the Components:

satellite npoess noaa
Artist's conception of a satellite, monitoring Earth's weather, oceans, atmosphere, and land. Image credit: NOAA. Details

Project Objectives: Day 1 Meeting

1) Your group has been assigned a continent, island, or region of islands. Each person in your group will choose a country. If you have a very large country, you may need to choose a specific city or region within this country.


Do some online research about the climate in the geographic area you have selected. Can you figure out what it is about the geography, topography, or location of this area that makes the climate of this region what it is?

2) Sample the GLOBE data set (the first and second links below) or Earth Observatory data set (second link, below) for climate data from your geographic area.

GLOBE Climate Data - 1987 maps

GLOBE Climate Data - links to 2007 maps

NASA Earth Observatory satellite data 2005-2012

3) Use the MS Excel spreadsheet (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 12kB May16 12) to make a table that includes monthly averages of the following:

4) View the National Geographic Video that describes the difference between weather and climate.

5) Refer to this resource (from Ackerman and Knox, University of Wisconsin) that describes the traditional Bergeron air mass classification.

Note to Instructor: Here, advanced courses (or those that emphasize an atmospheric component) can have students compare the Bergeron classification system to a more modern air mass scheme that makes daily air data available all across the country since ~1950 (from Sheridan, Kent State University).

6)Research online to find information about at least ONE extreme weather event in your geographic area. This may be a very high or very low temperature, flood, severe storm, tornado, hurricane, blizzard, drought, etc.

You might begin your search with the following websites:

NCDC Global Temp & Precip Extremes

NCDC Severe Weather Extremes

You are welcome to use any information you can find (some locations may be more difficult to research than others). Be careful with the quality of sites referenced!


Project Objectives: Day 2 Meeting

7) Now, as a group, complete the following Climate Around the World In-Class Exercise.

Climate Around the World Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 30kB May16 12)

8) Share your findings with the other student groups (including tables, extreme weather event and the in-class exercise questions) by making a presentation to the class about your poster. Be sure to mention the factors that influence the climate in different regions and what might distinguish normal climate variability from anomalous weather events (i.e., how much annual precipitation is considered 'normal' at this location and what kind of precipitation event would be outside of that range, as anomalous?).


This activity incorporates the following CLEAN climate resources:

Frederica Raia's Global Patterns

Cindy Shellito's Climate Around the World

Nick Haddad & Tamara Shapiro Ledley's Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System

Other Resources:

The Carbon Cycle

NASA Earth Observatory satellite data 2005-2012

Trenberth's How to Relate Weather Extremes to Climate Change

NOAA NCDC Global Temp & Precip Extremes

NOAA NCDC Severe Weather Extremes

GLOBE Earth System Posters

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